In 1988, Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) reported the “most promising current uses and demonstrations” (pp.12-13) for computers:
- Drill and practice to master basic skills.
- Development of writing skills.
- Problem solving
- Understanding abstract mathematics and science concepts.
- Simulation in science, mathematics and social studies.
- Manipulation of data.
- Acquisition of computer skills for general purposes, and for business and vocational training.
- Access and communication traditionally unserved populations of students
- Access and communications for teachers and students in remote locations
- Individualized learning
- Cooperative Learning
- Management of classroom activities and record keeping (pp. 12-14)
Looking at the list, the last — Record keeping: student information systems, payroll systems, business functions, human resources systems, and the like have been implemented in many schools. We have implemented technology to handle the mundane. The other applications have spotty implementation and without significant transformation.
In Technopoly, technology and cultural critic Neil Postman states that
“[T]he main characteristic of all tool-using cultures is that their tools were largely invented to do two things: To solve specific and urgent problems of physical life, such as water power, wind mills, and the heavy wheeled plow; or to serve the symbolic world of art politics, ritual, and religion, as the construction of castles and cathedrals. . .” (p. 23).
Considering this view with schools, school leaders are largely tool thinkers: “Technology is a tool.” So the focus becomes those issues not directly related to teaching learning: mundane management things (recording keeping, paying bills). Yes, states are requiring data and so school leaders respond to the “urgent” demands of regulators.
Further some school leaders contend that their teachers “integrate” technology. This is not much beyond the tool user. Hardware and software are purchased independently of their curricular design and use. Teachers are herded into a room shown the new gizmo and told to “integrate” it into their curriculum. This is a recipe for failure. Teachers have no direction, support, or encouragement to succeed. It’s up to them to find ways to use stuff with their kids. Just another thing to do.
School transformation occurs when school leaders insist that hardware and software are part of the curricular design and focuses on learning. It’s time school leaders realize the potential and implement it in their classrooms. Otherwise the other ideas that OTA identified in 1988 will continue to be on somebody’s list of promising practices.